Since the death of Harvey Pekar July 12, tributes to the Cleveland writer have poured in from all over the country, most of them highlighting how his often morose work embodied the dilemmas of the average working stiff’s life in a down-on-its-heels town like Cleveland. Pekar wrote occasional jazz reviews and reflections on his native city for Scene and the Free Times over the last two decades; the former showed his erudite enthusiasm, while the latter displayed a rocky mixture of pessimism and affection.
Although known as a jazz buff, Pekar’s musical tastes weren’t bound by the form. On July 3, he caught the Beachland Ballroom concert by Brave Combo, a polka-fusion band from Texas he counted among his favorites. According to fellow Brave Combo fan Steve Popovich, who championed polka music throughout his long career as a record company executive, Pekar usually showed up at the band’s Beachland shows. “Ethnic music is happy music,” says Popovich. “As sad as Harvey’s life seemed to be, whatever makes you happy is good.”
Says Beachland owner Cindy Barber: “We were downstairs in the dressing room, and Steve and Harvey were talking about the different styles of music in Eastern Europe, which Harvey knows a lot about. Someone was asking, ‘Why does everybody love Brave Combo?’ And Harvey said in that squeaky little voice of his, ‘Because they’re fun!’” He may not have showed it in his work or his hangdog demeanor, but Harvey Pekar knew how to have a good time.